Three days later, in the evening, when the sun was going down in splendour over the lowlands of Blackmoor, and making the Shaston windows like tongues of fire to the eyes of the rustics in that vale, the sick man fancied that he heard somebody come to the house, and a few minutes after there was a tap at the bedroom door. Phillotson did not speak; the door was hesitatingly opened, and there entered — Sue.
She was in light spring clothing, and her advent seemed ghostly — like the flitting in of a moth. He turned his eyes upon her, and flushed; but appeared to check his primary impulse to speak.
"I have no business here," she said, bending her frightened face to him. "But I heard you were ill — very ill; and — and as I know that you recognize other feelings between man and woman than physical love, I have come."
"I am not very ill, my dear friend. Only unwell."
"I didn't know that; and I am afraid that only a severe illness would have justified my coming!"
"Yes... yes. And I almost wish you had not come! It is a little too soon — that's all I mean. Still, let us make the best of it. You haven't heard about the school, I suppose?"
"No — what about it?"
"Only that I am going away from here to another place. The managers and I don't agree, and we are going to part — that's all."
Sue did not for a moment, either now or later, suspect what troubles had resulted to him from letting her go; it never once seemed to cross her mind, and she had received no news whatever from Shaston. They talked on slight and ephemeral subjects, and when his tea was brought up he told the amazed little servant that a cup was to be set for Sue. That young person was much more interested in their history than they supposed, and as she descended the stairs she lifted her eyes and hands in grotesque amazement. While they sipped Sue went to the window and thoughtfully said, "It is such a beautiful sunset, Richard."
"They are mostly beautiful from here, owing to the rays crossing the mist of the vale. But I lose them all, as they don't shine into this gloomy corner where I lie."
"Wouldn't you like to see this particular one? It is like heaven opened."
"Ah yes! But I can't."
"I'll help you to."
"No — the bedstead can't be shifted."
"But see how I mean."
She went to where a swing-glass stood, and taking it in her hands carried it to a spot by the window where it could catch the sunshine, moving the glass till the beams were reflected into Phillotson's face.
"There — you can see the great red sun now!" she said. "And I am sure it will cheer you — I do so hope it will!" She spoke with a childlike, repentant kindness, as if she could not do too much for him.
Phillotson smiled sadly. "You are an odd creature!" he murmured as the sun glowed in his eyes. "The idea of your coming to see me after what has passed!"
"Don't let us go back upon that!" she said quickly. "I have to catch the omnibus for the train, as Jude doesn't know I have come; he was out when I started; so I must return home almost directly. Richard, I am so very glad you are better. You don't hate me, do you? You have been such a kind friend to me!"
"I am glad to know you think so," said Phillotson huskily. "No. I don't hate you!"
It grew dusk quickly in the gloomy room during their intermittent chat, and when candles were brought and it was time to leave she put her hand in his or rather allowed it to flit through his; for she was significantly light in touch. She had nearly closed the door when he said, "Sue!" He had noticed that, in turning away from him, tears were on her face and a quiver in her lip.
It was bad policy to recall her — he knew it while he pursued it. But he could not help it. She came back.
"Sue," he murmured, "do you wish to make it up, and stay? I'll forgive you and condone everything!"
"Oh you can't, you can't!" she said hastily. "You can't condone it now!"
"HE is your husband now, in effect, you mean, of course?"
"You may assume it. He is obtaining a divorce from his wife Arabella."
"His wife! It is altogether news to me that he has a wife."
"It was a bad marriage."
"Like mine. He is not doing it so much on his own account as on hers. She wrote and told him it would be a kindness to her, since then she could marry and live respectably. And Jude has agreed."
"A wife... A kindness to her. Ah, yes; a kindness to her to release her altogether... But I don't like the sound of it. I can forgive, Sue."
"No, no! You can't have me back now I have been so wicked — as to do what I have done!"
There had arisen in Sue's face that incipient fright which showed itself whenever he changed from friend to husband, and which made her adopt any line of defence against marital feeling in him. "I MUST go now. I'll come again — may I?"
"I don't ask you to go, even now. I ask you to stay."
"I thank you, Richard; but I must. As you are not so ill as I thought, I CANNOT stay!"
"She's his — his from lips to heel!" said Phillotson; but so faintly that in closing the door she did not hear it. The dread of a reactionary change in the schoolmaster's sentiments, coupled, perhaps, with a faint shamefacedness at letting even him know what a slipshod lack of thoroughness, from a man's point of view, characterized her transferred allegiance, prevented her telling him of her, thus far, incomplete relations with Jude; and Phillotson lay writhing like a man in hell as he pictured the prettily dressed, maddening compound of sympathy and averseness who bore his name, returning impatiently to the home of her lover.
Gillingham was so interested in Phillotson's affairs, and so seriously concerned about him, that he walked up the hill-side to Shaston two or three times a week, although, there and back, it was a journey of nine miles, which had to be performed between tea and supper, after a hard day's work in school. When he called on the next occasion after Sue's visit his friend was downstairs, and Gillingham noticed that his restless mood had been supplanted by a more fixed and composed one.
"She's been here since you called last," said Phillotson.
"Not Mrs. Phillotson?"
"Ah! You have made it up?"
"No... She just came, patted my pillow with her little white hand, played the thoughtful nurse for half an hour, and went away."
"Well — I'm hanged! A little hussy!"
"What do you say?"
"Oh — nothing!"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, what a tantalizing, capricious little woman! If she were not your wife — "